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What It’s Like Being at The Helm of A Leading Conference Centre During A Global Pandemic

17 January 2021

January 2021 marks one year since Taubie Motlhabane’s appointment as CEO of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. We caught up with her to reflect on her first year in office and to get a sense of her plans for the year ahead.

CEO of the CTICC

It’s been a year since stepping into the role of CEO of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. What are the highlights of your first year in office?

I can say with absolute certainty that my top highlight has been leading the team that this organisation is blessed to have! What a pleasure to have a team that is super professional, ethical, loyal and very dedicated to superior customer service. We delivered a very successful Mining Indaba 2020, one of our biggest events. January to March 2020 was really great for us at the CTICC, and the rest of the year was set up to be just as great. However, we all know that the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed our plans severely.

Despite the unfortunate impact that the pandemic and resultant lockdown had on our business and industry, the CTICC managed to step up and be counted. In April, right at the beginning of our national lockdown and the surge of the pandemic in South Africa, the CTICC reached an agreement with the Western Cape Department of Health, to turn one of our buildings into a Covid-19 field hospital.  This was a really big deal for us. CTICC 1 was converted in the largest Covid-19 field hospital on the African continent and we learned other skills that will undoubtedly become useful into the future.

Hosting the Ladles of Love NPO in CTICC 2, enabling them to provide food to the destitute in the City during lockdown was also a highlight. As a result, our overall CSR contribution has increased by a phenomenal 340% this year.

During this year, another important highlight for me has been the strengthening of stakeholder and industry relationships. I place great value in relationships and we have utilised this ‘down time’ to connect deeper with our stakeholders.

2020 was a tumultuous year. The pandemic struck just three months into your tenure. How has the CTICC adapted to the COVID era?

It has been a tough year for sure! I am fortunate that I took over a very successful organisation and we have managed to go a bit further than most organisations on this very difficult journey. We have definitely not escaped unscathed. Our business has suffered massive income losses and are continuing to still service some unavoidable expenses.

All the current unfavourable impacts of the pandemic notwithstanding, I believe that we will come to the other side of this eventually. This is the normal cycle of life. We are on a downward turn at the moment, but the upward swing will come.

In the meantime, we have adapted our business to respond to the new reality brought forth by Covid-19. We have implemented world standard hygiene safety protocol for our staff, clients and suppliers. As a result, the CTICC has earned the right to use the WTTC Safe Travels stamp, which indicates that we are a facility that practices the best protocols to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

The CTICC now also offers a range of new digital event options, helping event organisers host conferences and meetings on a variety of digital platforms.

What are your thoughts on the future of the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) industry?

My opinion is that we will return to a higher level of activity than what we are seeing now. Will it be the same as pre-Covid? I really don’t know. One thing I believe though is that recovery will be slow. As we see a second wave of the pandemic get hold of most countries, we are anticipating the adverse impact on the tourism industry to be drawn out. Delegate numbers are currently restricted, and this will be so for a bit longer than we would like. However, the news of vaccines being rolled out in certain parts of the world is the proverbial light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

For the foreseeable future, digital and hybrid events and meetings will be our reality. When face-to-face meetings eventually return in large numbers, we in the tourism industry must be extra vigilant to ensure we do not become the ‘super-spreader’ industry. All protocols for hygiene safety must continue to be strictly observed.

The CTICC has implemented strict COVID-19 health and safety measures. What are the new protocols?

The CTICC’s new C19Care protocols have been developed in collaboration with health, tourism and events-industry leaders, both locally and abroad.

Visitors to the CTICC are required to adhere to the Centre’s health, hygiene and safety protocols. These include pre-arrival screening on our digital platform, sanitizing of hands, compulsory wearing of face masks and observing social distancing within the facility. Internal signage indicating Covid-19 safe measures and hand-sanitiser stations assist in maintaining a safe venue. We also monitor and support the safe flow of people through the venue.

In addition to venue protocols, we are constantly improving our food and beverage service to align with the latest national and international food safety protocols.

Our strict adherence to hygiene safety protocols has helped us to avoid having any workplace Covid-19 transmissions and infections. We continue to exercise diligence to ensure we minimize our risk as much as possible.

In June 2020, the CTICC became the first convention centre in Africa to be transformed into a Hospital of Hope for COVID-19 patients. How did this come about?

At the beginning of 2020, we could never have foreseen that within just a few months, we would be hosting a Covid-19 intermediate care facility. But when the opportunity came, it was the right opportunity knocking at the right door. The CTICC seized the opportunity to be part of the solution in the fight against the rapid spread of Covid-19 in Cape Town.

We were very proud to see the development of the Hospital of Hope in CTICC 1, and the role our staff were playing in this. The Hospital of Hope supported a lot of patients and their families during a very tough time. We are privileged to have been a part of that.

I have remained cautiously optimistic throughout the various lockdown alert levels and I remain convinced that we will recover. In the meantime, we continually adapt our operations to respond to the current situation we find ourselves in.

What gives you hope during these trying times?

I believe in the importance of the business events industry and its contribution to our economies. It is a resilient industry. The knowledge economy is very important to grow all other industries and the importance of experts coming together to share ideas can never be down-played. I believe that is what will ensure that business events will return to their place in the economy. That gives me hope!

What is the CTICC’s strategy for 2021 and beyond?

We are looking to focus our business development strategies on markets that we have not traditionally played strongly in. We are also enhancing our customer focus on our delivery. We believe that putting our clients at the centre of our business strategies will help us to add value to their businesses.

The CTICC is also exploring new ways to repurpose our spaces to attract new revenue streams for the short to medium term.

What are some of the big conferences, meetings and events on the CTICC calendar for 2021?

We saw a lot of events being postponed to 2021 and we look forward to hosting the likes of the Congress of the International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (ISAKOS) and GTR |Exporta and Bonds & Loans Africa events. We also plan to host our own events such as: Gift Fair, Allsport Expo, This is Art and the Ultimate Beverage Trade Show.

Why should people visit Cape Town and book their international meetings and conferences here?

Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has been voted as such by people around the world, several times! This is a City that works. Efficiency and beauty are twins here. A unique destination where the ocean and Table Mountain, one of the world’s Seven Wonders of Nature, frame your experience. Cape Town offers visitors a large, vibrant and sophisticated city by any standards with hotels which number among the best in the world. Home to amazing winelands, a diverse community that is a melting pot of cultures, and a professional and passionate team at the CTICC. Cape Town is a top travel & business events destination and we can’t wait to welcome the world back.

Final thoughts?

All situations are temporary. We will get to good times again. All we need to do is hang in there, and practice good hygiene protocols in the meantime.